Tuesday 31 March 2020

Not just a pretty face

On Thursday night, making political hay in the crisis, The Dáil paused in session at 8pm for spontaneous applause for the Corona Front Line. Okay okay, it wasn't as spontaneous as the first such display a month ago in Bergamo; but it was presumably heart-felt. The Plain People of Ireland were invited to join in. I'm institutionalised, I can obey orders, so at precisely 20:00hrs, I stood out in the yard >!<   >!<   >!<   >!< whanging at the business end of a long-handled shovel with a stout stick. I did not hear any echoing response from across the valley - maybe tomorrow.

I'm racking my brains to think of other ways in which I can give back to Ireland for 30+ years of house-room and support. But so far I lack the imagination to find a more proactive niche than practicing strict physical distancing and maintaining the boundaries of our mountain isolation pod. And making the divil of a racket at 8pm, of course. But it turns out that I gave already as I was alerted last week by the science social-network site ResearchGate. Bob, we found a recent citation of your research. This happens, in a desultory fashion, about once a week. I've been in the scientific publication business since 1978 and that's more than 40 years. Getting my findings over the line and into print has been the major failure in Bob's Business Model: I can do the ideas; I can do the experimental design; I can do the data analysis . . . and then I tend to butterfly off to the next bright flower. Nevertheless, helped by coat-tailing on other people's publishomania, I have a string of publications out there and occasionally another scientist will find a nugget of useful information in one or other of these papers and . . . citation:

Analysis of preferred codon usage in the coronavirus N genes and their implications for genome evolution and vaccine design. [PMID]"... ral genes and genomes exhibit varying numbers of synonymous codons depending on the host [PMID 1992]. Additionally, codon usage in a virus is influenced by selection pressure and compositional constra ...". Go us! all that cerebral tricking about 25+ years ago in a field that was conspicuous in having no obvious utility turns out to be a key part in the task of developing a vaccine against Corona viruses. It's not the first time our work in synonymous codon usage has generated payola in the biotech industry. And it's not the first time corona codon usage has appeared in The Blob.

Politics please pay attention! There is a tendency to prefer funding applied research rather than pure science. Applied research is normal science - inserting another brick in the wall; building on a solid pedestrian foundation; likely to yield a pay-back for society in the life-time of this government. It is solid, dependable and boring. Pure science is where you let the hottest minds of your generation off to follow their insatiably curious noses. That has the potential for revealing something really surprising which will game-changer everything for the better.

Monday 30 March 2020


Good manners is making things easier for others people; making them feel comfortable. It's not really about knowing whether to use a fish-knife: that's a convention. One feature of successful studenting is not needlessly annoying the people who are helping you get an education. If you are always handing in assignments late, then you'll get attention, yes; but you'll also get shorter and shorter shrift . . . and lower marks. You'll do better if you scope out the foibles and obsessions of those who are assessing your reports. You shouldn't have to be told twice to begin each report with a title, date, your name and ID . . . and finish with Conclusions and Further Work. If that's what Dr Xong likes. Me, I like a date-stamp because that is a variable: results may be different on Tuesdays because that's when fresh oxygen is delivered; or nothing grew on 12 Feb 2014 because the saplings was ripped out of the seed-bed by the Darwinday Storm.

One of my things (apart from apo'strophe's and the date) is persuading students to appreciate the fact that The Gaffer is going to receive a dozen or 50 more-or-less identical reports round about the time of the deadline. If they are submitted as an electronic file, then it is kinda unhelpful if you call the attachment assignment.pdf or even BobsAssignment.pdf. That may work fine in whatever filing system you have on your laptop but it's not much use in Bob's system if all the incommmming files have uninformative names. Accordingly, I school my students to develop a system for file names; not least because it will help them find the right report later. Assignment is kinda redundant - 10 letters without any information. I recommend getting a consistent set of file-naming conventions that are short and data-rich. BobResMetTask1-120214.pdf - then again Bob may be redundant if he's the only fella teaching the Research Methods course; Task is not as good as, say, Algebra1 which will be easier if you need to ctrl+F it later.

Me, I use, and recommend, CamelCase as above [aka InterCaps or HumpBack] because it is tighter than snake_case conventions ResMet_Algebra1_120214.pdf and as a once upon a time programmer I think key-strokes shd be minzd in the int. of effic.

That's okay for your internal filing system but useless for Bob the Recipient, so your submission needs your name somewhere as well as the date and a mnemonic for the task. It helps the assessor /marker if everyone in the class adopts the same ordering convention, of course, but that's a nicety. In a normal year, assessments for computer classes would be carried out in class in the last week of term [this week]; usually with a mock exam the previous week so that everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect. In a normal year, the kids log in with an Exam Account - a limited account allowing access to Excel, SPSS, Word or whatever but not the student's crib-sheets and the interweb. Actually I always make such tests open book because the learning outcomes shouldn't require you to memorise the syntax for doing a square root in Excel but rather when or whether to use it. My younger old-style colleagues don't agree on open-book but they are wrong.

This year, of course, all normal bets are off, The Institute abruptly shuttered itself at 1800 on 12 Mar 2020 and sent all students home - to Canada in the case of one of my students. We hadn't had time to do any continuous assessment CA assessment so last Friday the five of us teaching lab sections in Yr1 Research Methods, set the continuous assessment exam / quiz / test;  to be done at home. This year I won the Open Book wars! The students were required to submit a declaration that what they turned in was all their own work [multiprev on plagiarism]. Then they picked up the Excel Exam from Blackboard having been told that they had 8 hours to complete it - Canada is in a different time zone; one of my students was back doing shifts as a nurse; not everyone has broadband or even a computer at home. To make it easier on myself I sent extra instructions to my group including: Looking forward to seeing your responses Friday. Make sure your name appears in the returned Excel file and in its file name: PantiBliss-ResMet1Excel-270320.xlsx will do nicely. But the first two submission came in named 2020_RM_Practical_copy_copy_copy.xlsx and 2020RM-C00122345.xlsx so I fired off a reminder:
Please read the instructions (and try to make it easy for me to want to give you marks). I'm going to get 16 x 2 different files as e-mail attachments whc I have to file. If they are all called RM Practical copy copy copy then I have to rename them all. I asked for PantiBliss-ResMet1Excel-270320.xlsx or something similar.
Three of the remaining submissions attached files called literally
I'm surmising two things: a) they haven't heard of celebrity dragster Panti Bliss b) they are good at obeying instructions, probably thinking "it's a rather peculiar file name but if that's what the ould bugger wants, I'll try to oblige".

Sunday 29 March 2020

Isolato sed communicando

Today it is 100 years since my mother was born. You cannot continue to claim birthdays after you've cashed in your chips. We had planned for a bit of a knees-up for the family this weekend, but the Old Lady died in January so we cancelled the booking. Actually, as you know, Covid-19 would have cancelled the booking on us anyway. We are making do with an 11-way family Zoom at 11am with instructions to bring cake.

 What else has been going on?
Ireland has a flattish curve but could do better [source where you can patch in your own location]:

Stay safe stay sane!

Saturday 28 March 2020


I promised that I'd read Boccaccio's Decameron, so you didn't have to. Here's the first of a few stories from that source. This is from John Florio's translation, published in 1620 and available on Gutenberg. We've met Florio before as the consummate translator of The Essais de Michel Montaigne. Let's remember that Florio's translation came 260 years after Boccaccio's manuscript. But I've chosen it because it's language retains an old fashioned Shagsperian style; more suitable for faerie tales IMO.
Here we go: a romance with a nail-biting fantastical coincidence twist worth of Charles Dickens' plot bolts that turns out alright in The End.

Teodoro, being enamoured of Violante, daughter of Messer Amerigo, his lord, gets her with child, and is sentenced to the gallows; but while he is being scourged thither, he is recognized by his father, and being set at large, takes Violante to wife. The queen ordained that the next should be told by Lauretta, who blithely thus began:--

Fairest ladies, what time good King Guglielmo ruled Sicily there dwelt on the island a gentleman, Messer Amerigo Abate da Trapani by name, who was well provided, as with other temporal goods, so also with children. For which cause being in need of servants, he took occasion of the appearance in Trapani waters of certain Genoese corsairs from the Levant, who, scouring the coast of Armenia, had captured not a few boys, to purchase of them some of these youngsters, supposing them to be Turks; among whom, albeit most shewed as mere shepherd boys, there was one, Teodoro, by name, whose less rustic mien seemed to betoken gentle blood. Who, though still treated as a slave, was suffered to grow up in the house with Messer Amerigo's children, and, nature getting the better of circumstance, bore himself with such grace and dignity that Messer Amerigo gladly gave him his freedom, and still deeming him to be a Turk, had him baptized and named Pietro, and made him his majordomo, and placed much trust in him. Now among the other children that grew up in Messer Amerigo's house was his fair and dainty daughter, Violante; and, as her father was in no hurry to give her in marriage, it so befell that she became enamoured of Pietro, but, for all her love and the great conceit she had of his qualities and conduct, she nevertheless was too shamefast to discover her passion to him. However, Love spared her the pains, for Pietro had cast many a furtive glance in her direction, and had grown so enamoured of her that 'twas never well with him except he saw her; but great was his fear lest any should detect his passion, for he deemed 'twould be the worse for him. The damsel, who was fain indeed of the sight of him, understood his case; and to encourage him dissembled not her exceeding great satisfaction. On which footing they remained a great while, neither venturing to say aught to the other, much as both longed to do so. But, while they both burned with a mutual flame, Fortune, as if their entanglement were of her preordaining, found means to banish the fear and hesitation that kept them tongue-tied.

Messer Amerigo possessed, a mile or so from Trapani, a goodly estate, to which he was wont not seldom to resort with his daughter and other ladies by way of recreation; and on one of these days, while there they tarried with Pietro, whom they had brought with them, suddenly, as will sometimes happen in summer, the sky became overcast with black clouds, insomuch that the lady and her companions, lest the storm should surprise them there, set out on their return to Trapani, making all the haste they might. But Pietro and the girl being young, and sped perchance by Love no less than by fear of the storm, completely outstripped her mother and the other ladies; and when they were gotten so far ahead as to be well-nigh out of sight of the lady and all the rest, the thunder burst upon them peal upon peal, hard upon which came a fall of hail very thick and close, from which the lady sought shelter in the house of a husbandman. Pietro and the damsel, finding no more convenient refuge, betook them to an old, and all but ruinous, and now deserted, cottage, which, however, still had a bit of roof left, whereunder they both took their stand in such close quarters, owing to the exiguity of the shelter, that they perforce touched one another. Which contact was the occasion that they gathered somewhat more courage to disclose their love; and so it was that Pietro began on this wise:--"Now would to God that this hail might never cease, that so I might stay here for ever!" "And well content were I," returned the damsel. And by and by their hands met, not without a tender pressure, and then they fell to embracing and so to kissing one another, while the hail continued. And not to dwell on every detail, the sky was not clear before they had known the last degree of love's felicity, and had taken thought how they might secretly enjoy one another in the future. The cottage being close to the city gate, they hied them thither, as soon as the storm was overpast, and having there awaited the lady, returned home with her. Nor, using all discretion, did they fail thereafter to meet from time to time in secret, to their no small solace; and the affair went so far that the damsel conceived, whereby they were both not a little disconcerted; insomuch that the damsel employed many artifices to arrest the course of nature, but to no effect. Wherefore Pietro, being in fear of his life, saw nothing for it but flight, and told her so. Whereupon:--"If thou leave me," quoth she, "I shall certainly kill myself." Much as he loved her, Pietro answered:--"Nay but, my lady, wherefore wouldst thou have me tarry here? Thy pregnancy will discover our offence: thou wilt be readily forgiven; but 'twill be my woeful lot to bear the penalty of thy sin and mine." "Pietro," returned the damsel, "too well will they wot of my offence, but be sure that, if thou confess not, none will ever wot of thine." Then quoth he:--"Since thou givest me this promise, I will stay; but mind thou keep it."

The damsel, who had done her best to keep her condition secret, saw at length by the increase of her bulk that 'twas impossible: wherefore one day most piteously bewailing herself, she made her avowal to her mother, and besought her to shield her from the consequences. Distressed beyond measure, the lady chid her severely, and then asked her how it had come to pass. The damsel, to screen Pietro, invented a story by which she put another complexion on the affair. The lady believed her, and, that her fall might not be discovered, took her off to one of their estates; where, the time of her delivery being come, and she, as women do in such a case, crying out for pain, it so befell that Messer Amerigo, whom the lady expected not, as indeed he was scarce ever wont, to come there, did so, having been out a hawking, and passing by the chamber where the damsel lay, marvelled to hear her cries, and forthwith entered, and asked what it meant. On sight of whom the lady rose and sorrowfully gave him her daughter's version of what had befallen her. But he, less credulous than his wife, averred that it could not be true that she knew not by whom she was pregnant, and was minded to know the whole truth: let the damsel confess and she might regain his favour; otherwise she must expect no mercy and prepare for death.

The lady did all she could to induce her husband to rest satisfied with what she had told him; but all to no purpose. Mad with rage, he rushed, drawn sword in hand, to his daughter's bedside (she, pending the parley, having given birth to a boy) and cried out:--"Declare whose this infant is, or forthwith thou diest." Overcome by fear of death, the damsel broke her promise to Pietro, and made a clean breast of all that had passed between him and her. Whereat the knight, grown fell with rage, could scarce refrain from slaying her. However, having given vent to his wrath in such words as it dictated, he remounted his horse and rode to Trapani, and there before one Messer Currado, the King's lieutenant, laid information of the wrong done him by Pietro, in consequence whereof Pietro, who suspected nothing, was forthwith taken, and being put to the torture, confessed all. Some days later the lieutenant sentenced him to be scourged through the city, and then hanged by the neck; and Messer Amerigo, being minded that one and the same hour should rid the earth of the two lovers and their son (for to have compassed Pietro's death was not enough to appease his wrath), mingled poison and wine in a goblet, and gave it to one of his servants with a drawn sword, saying:--"Get thee with this gear to Violante, and tell her from me to make instant choice of one of these two deaths, either the poison or the steel; else, I will have her burned, as she deserves, in view of all the citizens; which done, thou wilt take the boy that she bore a few days ago, and beat his brains out against the wall, and cast his body for a prey to the dogs."

Hearing the remorseless doom thus passed by the angry father upon both his daughter and his grandson, the servant, prompt to do evil rather than good, hied him thence.

Now, as Pietro in execution of his sentence was being scourged to the gallows by the serjeants, 'twas so ordered by the leaders of the band that he passed by an inn, where were three noblemen of Armenia, sent by the king of that country as ambassadors to Rome, to treat with the Pope of matters of the highest importance, touching a crusade that was to be; who, having there alighted to rest and recreate them for some days, had received not a few tokens of honour from the nobles of Trapani, and most of all from Messer Amerigo. Hearing the tramp of Pietro's escort, they came to a window to see what was toward; and one of them, an aged man, and of great authority, Fineo by name, looking hard at Pietro, who was stripped from the waist up, and had his hands bound behind his back, espied on his breast a great spot of scarlet, not laid on by art, but wrought in the skin by operation of Nature, being such as the ladies here call a rose. Which he no sooner saw, than he was reminded of a son that had been stolen from him by corsairs on the coast of Lazistan some fifteen years before, nor had he since been able to hear tidings of him; and guessing the age of the poor wretch that was being scourged, he set it down as about what his son's would be, were he living, and, what with the mark and the age, he began to suspect that 'twas even his son, and bethought him that, if so, he would scarce as yet have forgotten his name or the speech of Armenia. Wherefore, as he was within earshot he called to him:--"Teodoro!" At the word Pietro raised his head: whereupon Fineo, speaking in Armenian, asked him:--"Whence and whose son art thou?" The serjeants, that were leading him, paused in deference to the great man, and so Pietro answered:--"Of Armenia was I, son of one Fineo, brought hither by folk I wot not of, when I was but a little child." Then Fineo, witting that in very truth 'twas the boy that he had lost, came down with his companions, weeping; and, all the serjeants making way, he ran to him, and embraced him, and doffing a mantle of richest texture that he wore, he prayed the captain of the band to be pleased to tarry there until he should receive orders to go forward, and was answered by the captain that he would willingly so wait.

Fineo already knew, for 'twas bruited everywhere, the cause for which Pietro was being led to the gallows; wherefore he straightway hied him with his companions and their retinue to Messer Currado, and said to him:--"Sir, this lad, whom you are sending to the gallows like a slave, is freeborn, and my son, and is ready to take to wife her whom, as 'tis said, he has deflowered; so please you, therefore, delay the execution until such time as it may be understood whether she be minded to have him for husband, lest, should she be so minded, you be found to have broken the law." Messer Currado marvelled to hear that Pietro was Fineo's son, and not without shame, albeit 'twas not his but Fortune's fault, confessed that 'twas even as Fineo said: and having caused Pietro to be taken home with all speed, and Messer Amerigo to be brought before him, told him the whole matter. Messer Amerigo, who supposed that by this time his daughter and grandson must be dead, was the saddest man in the world to think that 'twas by his deed, witting that, were the damsel still alive, all might very easily be set right: however, he sent post haste to his daughter's abode, revoking his orders, if they were not yet carried out. The servant, whom he had earlier despatched, had laid the sword and poison before the damsel, and, for that she was in no hurry to make her choice, was giving her foul words, and endeavouring to constrain her thereto, when the messenger arrived; but on hearing the injunction laid upon him by his lord, he desisted, and went back, and told him how things stood. Whereupon Messer Amerigo, much relieved, hied him to Fineo, and well-nigh weeping, and excusing himself for what had befallen, as best he knew how, craved his pardon, and professed himself well content to give Teodoro, so he were minded to have her, his daughter to wife. Fineo readily accepted his excuses, and made answer:--"'Tis my will that my son espouse your daughter, and, so he will not, let thy sentence passed upon him be carried out."

So Fineo and Messer Amerigo being agreed, while Teodoro still languished in fear of death, albeit he was glad at heart to have found his father, they questioned him of his will in regard of this matter. When he heard that, if he would, he might have Violante to wife, Teodoro's delight was such that he seemed to leap from hell to paradise, and said that, if 'twas agreeable to them all, he should deem it the greatest of favours. So they sent to the damsel to learn her pleasure: who, having heard how it had fared, and was now like to fare, with Teodoro, albeit, saddest of women, she looked for nought but death, began at length to give some credence to their words, and to recover heart a little, and answered that, were she to follow the bent of her desire, nought that could happen would delight her more than to be Teodoro's wife; but nevertheless she would do as her father bade her.

So, all agreeing, the damsel was espoused with all pomp and festal cheer, to the boundless delight of all the citizens, and was comforted, and nurtured her little boy, and in no long time waxed more beautiful than ever before; and, her confinement being ended, she presented herself before Fineo, who was then about to quit Rome on his homeward journey, and did him such reverence as is due to a father. Fineo, mighty well pleased to have so fair a daughter-in-law, caused celebrate her nuptials most bravely and gaily, and received, and did ever thereafter entreat, her as his daughter.

And so he took her, not many days after the festivities were ended, with his son and little grandson, aboard a galley, and brought them to Lazistan, and there thenceforth the two lovers dwelt with him in easeful and lifelong peace.

Friday 27 March 2020

Studly gay

Because of CoVid disruptions, I am effectively retired now, on full pay until 2nd October and on plenty-enough thereafter. Plenty-enough because I'm quite low-maintenance: not for me the bucket list, a newer car, cruise ships and eating out. If I need something to do, there is always The Blob the demands of which will spark me from sofa-somnolence to write 600 words on something curious. It just needs a trigger as I restlessly surf my corner of the Interweb and I'm down the rabbit hole . . . or in today's adventure, up the horse urethra.

It started when Wikipedia's recent deaths tag threw up:
War Emblem [R], who he? I knew he must be an 'orse but why does he, dead, make the front page? And is there a connexion with Man O'War who famously ran against Seabiscuit and lost. For someone who is definitely not at the races, I've written rather a lot about horses and their End of Life Issues. Apart from all the Irish people who will die from Corona Virus picked up at Cheltenham 2020 [thanks lads] at least one horse Copper Gone West has been terminated there this year by a broken fetlock.

War Emblem was successful in his first career as a thoroughbred race-horse earning $3.5million, including 1st at the 2002 Kentucky Derby, for his owners. The usual retirement gift for such star race winners is to put them at stud, hoping that their spermatozoa can win the race up some mares' fallopian tubes to generate another generation of fast horses. War Emblem was kind of hopeless at that task, showing far too little interest in the opposite sex. This inevitably led to wry, easy-story, journalistic speculation that this stud might be gay. A horse like that can make far more through stud fees than in a life-time of race prizes, so he was a sore disappointment to the Japanese business that had taken a plunge on him.

Five years ago the old chap was repatriated to the USA [I'll leave it to you to work out what the carbon footprint is on these trans-Pacific horse-shuttlings] but couldn't be left alone by the USDA. They are concerned about a horse STD called contagious equine metritis CEM. This is a bacterial infection caused by a a betaproteobacteria called Taylorella equigenitalis. This causes inflammation [-itis] of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus which is kinda icky and affects the fertility of the mare at least temporarily - T. equigenitalis. usually succumbs if treated with the appropriate anti-biotic. Stallions are mostly asymptomatic so foreign imports have to jump through a bizarre diagnostic hoop sphincter if they want to stay in the USA. They are requested and required to jump two mares, who are subsequently swabbed out to check for the bacteria. Poor old War Emblem was no more interested in American fillies than in Japanese. The rule-and-regs won't allow 'entire' immigrant horses in the country so the only option was gelding. Which happened to him in Feb 2016 - he was only 17. Apparently, on 11th March, he was found 'dead in his paddock' at Old Friends Equine, a Kentucky retirement home for wealth-generating horses. I guess that's better than a dose of captive-bolt behind a hastily erected screen like that which terminated Copper Gone West in Cheltenham

We've met betaproteobacteria on The Blob before because that bacterial class includes Neisseria gonorrhoeae [hard to spell but easy to catch] and Neisseria meningitidis; and Bordatella pertussis the germ for whooping cough.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Bringing out the best

Leadership - it's a palpable quality: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them [That would be Shagsper's XIIth Night]. In this Plague Year, the Born Great have been found wanting: the rich know-nothings who have sailed to the top in the UK and USA have been conspicuous by their self-interest, self-absorption, ignorance and mendacity. Going to Eton and knowing a few Latin tags are the hall-marks of privilege rather than of education. With chaotic messages and culpable negligence from the top someone has to call the shots, make the difficult decisions, keep calm and carry on.  That last phrase is a slogan, a meme and a sound-byte: it will not save one life or kill one virus. Slogans have their place: on Billy Bragg's guitar [R] which echos the same words on the Instrument of The Man Destruction owned by Woodie Guthrie. Remember that the USA is 50 different countries [and Canada similarly fragmented] so the response to the crisis has been taken up with more foresight and maturity in some states than others.

What is required for each community is a plan, commitment, trust, an inventory of essential kit and the logistics to coordinate these streams so they get to right place at the same time. Masks need doctors; respirators need electricity; hands need soap; thermometers are handy too. The medical crisis will run in parallel with a life-as-we-know-it crisis. Everyone has to eat, keep sane, obey orders. Being useful in the crisis is for most of us is like our brand of home-education: shut up and get out of the way of the Effectives. They also serve who only stay at home. This Covid leadership debacle - the cowardice, the refusal to learn, the ignorance of evidence and lack of imagination - has allowed less privileged and harder-working stars to shine.

Dr Amy Acton, is the Ohio Health Director, working under Governor Mike DeWine, to save The Buckeye State from going under. She is refreshingly candid about: the failure to prepare for this even when it was obviously on the way; the lack of coordination between public and private health care; the lack of tests and testing reagents; woeful lack or PPE to keep the virus out of the airways of the workers on the ground in hospitals, care-homes and in the wider community. It is an antidote to Washington, although not really a cause for optimism. She has a fan-base among the plain people of Ohio who have nothing really to do except watch the train-wreck unfold on the local TV Channels. A local T-shirt company is selling a new Homage-to-Acton shirt [L] that will raise money for a couple of local charities. Acton gives credit where it is due and knows how to make people feel good about themselves and their community, even if it's by proxy. A long-time customer of a store which was going to have to close left a $2,500 "tip" for the laid-off workers. A logistic company put trucks and drivers to work for  the state: we'll haul anything up to 2,000 lb weight, anywhere it is needed.

Dr Emily Landon, lead epidemiologist at U Chicago School of Medicine has also been brought forth as the Spokesperson for Illinois' response to Covid-19. With the Governor, commendably, stepping back from the podium to recognise that he doesn't really know enough to act effectively with Effectives. Obviously, elected in a democracy, he is the person in/on whom the buck stops; but different Governors have been more or less capable of taking evidence-based decisions. They have also had a patchy record in privileging the people over the economy. Many on the Right are barely capable of distinguishing between benefitting employers and corporations from benefitting the country. Landon goes on: Our medical system doesn't have any slack, there are no empty wards waiting for patients or nurses waiting in the wings . . . she contrasts the responses of St Louis [lock-down] and Philadelphia [business as usual] to the 1918 pandemic. The results of this experiment are in the coffin-count. These data are where we get the idea of flattening the curve; the area under the St Louis curve [=total bodycount] is half that of Philadelphia (although it went on longer):
And because The Best comes in Threes, let's look at Dr Deena Hinshaw [L] Alberta's chief medical officer of health MoH. She also has a sartorial message: in this report she is wearing a Periodic Table of the Elements dress - just to show that what she says is likely to be evidence-based rather than nonsense or a white-wash. I've picked out the oxygen sulphur selenium tellurium column because I wrote about it before in my biog of Jane Pinsent. Hinshaw's Patrick's Day message is that all bars will be closed now. But also gyms, swimming pools, community centres, bingo halls, bookies, museums, art galleries, science centres. and libraries. These are significant inroads into the personal freedoms of Albertans but the scope of closures is so wide that no group can complain that they are being picked on/out. The commentariat have expressed, a slightly patronising, surprise that this quiet medical researcher is stepping up to the podium as if to the manner born. Oh, yes, and she has inspired t-shirts too: What would Dr Hinshaw do? Or: We are all in this together; which echoes Dr Hinshaw's empathic 'call-sign'. This person is on top of her brief, she's hopeful, realistic, inspiring and smart as a nest of owls: she deserves a medal and a good night's sleep.

Finally let's give a flutter of hands to the signers [bloboprev] of these Messages:

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Step it out Bro

My ActivPal data have come back as two PDF files for six 24 hour days of information. This shows that, as expected, I am a sofa bloke. Activity codes for the Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun Mon chart [L] Sleep Walk Stand Drive  Sit . I am for sure not clocking up the 8 hours of sleep required by St Matthew of Walker. I'm not pathological like Margaret "Bonkers" Thatcher or General Petraeus on 4 hours per night but my range is 6.5 - 7.3 hr/night with a couple of trips to the tinkle. My MET-hours are also reasonably consistent in the mid-30s per day. METs are calibrated at
  1. sleep
  2. gardening
  3. brisk walk
  4. wood-chopping 
  5. brisk cycling
  6. shovelling snow
  7. running
In an 18 hour awake day on average I am just fossicking around - sitting, making tea, bloggin' . . . a bit less than 2 hrs a day actually walking during the working week [We Th Fr top three circles] ; a bit more than 2 hrs a day walking at the weekend [Sa Su Mo lower three circles]. The ActivPal manages to differentiate between driving and just sitting and I can independently verify that I spend 90 minutes in the car, and a huge cloud of carbon footprint, every working day. That's 'unavoidable' given that I choose to live 40 km from work in a region without buses. But ,virtue alert> I typically don't drive anywhere on Sat and Sun: not to the gym, the mall, the pub, the feed-store or visiting. The details are quite revealing, so we should resist letting The Man fix these to us as a time-keeping device:
This is Thursday when I have two Human Physiology lectures 9-10, 10-11 and then white-diary for the rest of the day. The trace reveals that a) I pace about waving my arms while talking about the pancreas [true dat] b) I was outta there by 1 o'clock after I'd spent another 2 hours at my desk shuffling papers. When I got home at 2pm, I was reasonably active although I cannot remember what I actually did. A bit of light wood-chopping, maybe?

I boast about being welded to my sofa and the poster child for the sedentary life-style but the bottom left corner of each day from the summarry chart records MET.hrs at 30-35 per day. That clocks up at 12-15 Met.mins per week and this resource claims that good things start to happen if you can get over 4,000 Met.m per week. Does this mean that my loaf-epaulettes will be ripped off my shoulders, my TV remote will be broken in half and I will be ignominiously drummed out of the Corps de Pommes de Terre de Fauteuil?  The problem is that my ActivPal PDF reports, for all [the gizmo ticks every 15 seconds] that data, it is really just an elaborate anecdote without a bench-mark or any replication. I'll talk to my pal Gary who can run a marathon and has a FitBit App on his watch.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Shit storm

Clostridium difficile infection is the very divil [prev], not least because they've renamed it Clostridioides difficile. It's more familiar as C.diff because few can pronounce the difficile - me I prefer it as Italian diffíchilleh. It is 'difficult' because very hard to shake if once it takes hold of your gut. Much better not to get it at all but a) people with a healthy gut flora will often harbour manageable quantities of the bad boy b) the most common route of infection is nosocomial - in hospital - where / when your flora has been cleaned out by a regimen of antibiotics to treat some other infectious disease. Then it turns out that C.diff is resistant to every other antibiotic in the hospital's medicine chest.

FMT has been one of the most unexpected, most wonderful, most appropriate technology solutions to the difficile problem. The idea behind fecal microbial transplant FMT is that my intestinal flora - the whole community down there in the dark - is able to keep C.diff in check . . . so what say we throw in the whole microbial black box and see what happens. Miracle happens: within days the symptoms - bloody watery frequent diarrhea, heart racing, abdominal cramping, fever, nausea, loss of appetite - subside and disappear permanently. Nobody knows how it works - and FMT only really works for C.diff  it's no good for bowelly shite like IBD, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis: let alone for depression, autism, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's. As 10,000 people shit themselves to death from C.diff  each year in the USA alone, it's hard not to like FMT. And since it was given an experimental licence in 2013, some 50,000 people have been treated many of them successfully. Obviously it depends on the quality of the fecal matter and there may well be horses-for-courses compatibility issues. I guess there are sooper poopers out there whose discard is as keenly sought after as Premier Cru Bâtard-Montrachet.

The FDA and EMA, the regulatory authorities in the USA and EU respectively, are deeply ambivalent about FMT. They want to licence any efficacious therapy, yes, but they also want to have quality control and that requires a) purity and b) the vendors knowing what's in their product. Then again, they really want to licence a few commercial [accountable, quality assured, protocol following] products because there are too many people who are doing the transplant themselves in the utility room. They say that all you need is a blender, a sieve, some clean water and a turkey-baster. Yes yes, that same turkey-baster which your lesbian pals used to get pregnant two years ago. And yes yes, they put it through the hottest dish-washer cycle twice.

Now the FDA is reporting a dark lining to this silver cloud with half a dozen cases of people who got sick after FMT. Seems that there have been 2 cases of enteropathogenic E coli (EPEC) infections, while 4 people came down with Shiga toxin–producing E coli (STEC). All the FMT doses involved came from OpenBiome a Massachusetts supplier of quality poop. This is a profitable non-profit turning over €7,250,000 in 2017 - there are six executives on six-figure 'compensation'. That same year they shipped ~10,500 treatments from their stool bank. For the last couple of years, I've been supervising MSc students on our Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs [Pharm-Regs] course at The Institute. From reading about and discussing the differences between Europe and America, it seems that the EMA is rather more risk-averse; while the FDA more utilitarian: being prepared to tolerate some shit happening, if the overall benefit is positive. I can't see them closing down the authorised supply-chain because 1/1000 of the products is contaminated with over-aggressive coliforms. The benefits - medical, psychological, economic, social - of having a workable treatment for C. diff outweigh the costs. If the FDA can hold their nerve and OpenBiome can up-grade their screen protocol then these 6 adverse outcomes will fizzle out to a storm in a tea-cup.

Monday 23 March 2020


On Saurday, The Beloved and I went for a walk into Wexford and up the hill which we can see from our kitchen window. It was good to get a bit of stretch especially immediately after lunch when the only alternative is to fall into a drooling snooze and finish up with a wet collar. On the way back we met our Spanish neighbour who was also escaping from her own stir-craziness. Asking a phatic "¿Que pasa?" we got an earful about the tragedy in Madrid's Monte Hermoso private nursing home where more than half of the 130 residents tested Covid+ and 19 of them died. The Spanish government has since declared Eminent Domain to seize all private nursing homes and hospitals. This news gave me a sinking sense of dread because we are only a week behind Spain and on the same trajectory. This foreboding was brought into focus 5 minutes later as an ambulance blue-lighted along the back-country road at the bottom of our lane. It could only be on the way to aid one of our near neighbours.

Because of Madrid, from the depths of my 'mind' an end-of-life phrase struggled to the surface which I tracked down when we got home:
Such as thou art, some time was I,
Such as I am , such shalt thou be.
They say this sentiment was originally [in Normann Frensh] inscribed on the tomb [R] of Edward of Woodstock, The Black Prince, son and heir of England's Edward III. This paragon of knighthood or ruthless warmonger, depending on your nation and class, never really recovered from a bout of the bloody flux and predeceased his grieving father at the age of 45. He is buried in Canterbury Cathedral and I remember his tomb, but not the epitaph, because I was at school in the cathedral precincts and sang there twice every Sunday from 1968 to 1972. It was only a step, or 190,000 of them, from there to the start of the Canterbury Tales in London. I have written in awe of Geoffrey Chaucer before, and have indeed read most of that entertaining set of tales within the framing tale. The frame is that a rattle of sondry folk, a microcosm of medieval society, gathers in The Tabard Inn, Southwark and sets off in pilgrimage for the tomb of St Thomas à Becket in Canterbury.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes
The Tales are funny, dirty, satirical and timeless - recommended.

Chaucer owes a debt of concept to Giovanni Boccaccio whose Decameron was written a generation before Chaucer started to put pen to paper. Literally, because Chaucer's Tales were circulated as manuscripts for 100 years before John Caxton got round to printing them. The Decameron, likewise, of course. The Decameron is another set of tales within a rather more edgy framing story: Seven young women Pampinea, Fiammetta, Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, Neifile, and Elissa and three men, Panfilo, Filostrato, and Dioneo flee Firenze and the 1347 Black Death to hole up in a rustic villa for a fortnight. That is exactly the same period of voluntary isolation which we are requesting people to embrace to stop spreading Covid-19. How did people do Big Brother before Netflix, Grand Theft Auto and Instagram? that is the question. Well The Lads I Ragazzi get to their destination, unpack, and agree that they'll tell each other tales every night until it's safe to return to the city. Not Sundays, of course, and two other holy days of obligation nix the entertainments; so the Decameron is 10 people's stories x 10 nights or 100 mini-sagas, novelettes. Beyond its existence, I know nothing about the Decameron except that Pier Paolo Pasolini made a film of the book.
If we're going to spend the next several weeks in lock-down because of this century's Great Plague, it might be an opportunity to see what was floating the social boat in similar lock-down isolation circumstances 673 years ago in Italy.

Sunday 22 March 2020


Mothering Sunday, one of the great Spring festivals didn't appear unexpectedly in 2020 and a certain amount of preparation went into it. With Coronarama in full swing, it was difficult <foolhardy> for Dau.I and Dau.II, let alone The Boy in England, to come home with cakes and honey this weekend. On their behalf therefore, I made a sort-of-simnel cake for their mother: it had little cubes of marzipan  (and sultanas) running through it rather than, as traditional, a gurt big slab of the stuff baked into the cake's midline. Last night, I was instructed to receive a 3-way-incommming Skype call before breakfast which would be a welcome >!surprise!<. It was so surprising that the Bean an Tí was in the shower when Skype started its bing-bong-bing, so the kids had to try again in ten minutes. That was the best possible start to the day that's in it.

The day started off chill; but by lunchtime the sun was out and it turned into a perfect Spring day, crisp, fresh, the pear-tree and the quince showing leaf, a light easterly wind to keep things moving. And I tell ya b'ys the World was on the move this afternoon. We've lived up our lane in one of the remotest parts of Leinster for 24 years, and I've never seen so many cars parked on the county road nor such a commensurate steady tramp of people, their dogs, teens and children heading past our gate for the hills above. It is insane; and not only at ours: Gardai have been forced to close public carparks at tourist hotspot Glendalough following complaints about people not taking social distancing seriously despite the escalating coronavirus crisis. The move follows reports of large crowds congregating at entrances to the mountainous beauty spot, with shocking photos showing throngs queuing at busy coffee stalls and other pop-up shops.

The Beloved warned me off about inviting all and sundry in to see the yard, the ringstone and the sheep. I admit I do have a tendency to lean on the gate sucking a bit of straw like a rustic codger and passing the time of day with passers-by. For at least the last 18 years, for example, we have been servicing the Blackstairs Challenge - a 30+ km hill walk in the month of May: always providing water and more recently lashing out a slap of flapjacks to boost the blood sugar of the trekkies.
Everyone now knows that we have a tap in the yard convenient to the front gate. For me the problem was not so much that I'd cop some spittle while chatting to an infected but asymptomatic visitor; rather it was that a dozen different people would sneak in and touch the tap to create a pulsing fomite (*) of Covid-19. The original 2007-vintage tap rusted to buggery a couple of years ago and I replaced it with one which allows it to be padlocked closed. Not my choice; in fact I felt uncomfortable about there being a demand for such a product - who would be stealing water?? But it turned out to be just the thing this weekend (and the foreseeable future); I made us a sign [L] and wired it to the tap asking people not to touch it.

The gate has been shut these last few days because of rogue sheep-in-the-lane but I think I would have closed it anyway although I hate doing this normally - feck it, next we'll have automatic gates and a chain-link fence and be prisoners in our own castle. But as the raree show continued up and down the lane hour after hour, I made another sign to hang on the gate:
Isolation Unit
Stay Safe * Hugs L8R
It's like the foot & mouth
Except it kills people
This went through a few iterations: "COVID-19: It's like the foot & mouth except it kills people" seemed a bit too passive aggressive for "What in the name of madness are you doing taking your kids into this maelstrom of people? Go Home! do not pass Go, do not collect £200; do not stop at the garage for ice-creams; that petrol pump handle hasn't been cleaned this week". I softened it, as I thought, with the "Isolation Unit" to imply that there were old people in the house <true dat> . . . or someone with cystic fibrosis. And I have a genuine concern for the health of everyone, not least because unimaginative imbeciles can spread this virus as well as [better than] anyone else and so added "Stay Safe". I firmly believe that these dread days will pass and the survivors will continue to walk up our lane for their physical and mental health and because it is wonderful to roam about in the hills. "Hugs L8R" was meant to convey this.
(*) Fomite: n. object or material which is likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, furniture . . . or outdoor tap.

March-22 Coviday-23

Ten days of lock-down - how's it been for you?
What every hill-walker now needs: a 2m distance stick to adhere to current government stranger-danger guidelines. Also useful for having a swing at zombies. Upgrades: pointed silver ferrule for taking down vampires. End basket for accepting sweeties from strangers. Hand-sani pouch.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Dab it off

Today's Google Doodle celebrates Ignaz Semmelweis done to death by murderous guards for advocating hand-washing.
I got mortal frighty about hot air hand-driers because they concentrate the coliform aerosol endemic in public 'restrooms', heat 'em up to blood temperature and deliver the cocktial to your hands. For the last couple of years, therefore, I have brought a towelling 30x30cm 'face-cloth' to work as my personal hand-dryer. They retail at €1.60 [or less] for a pack of four - that's cheaper than 4 Kit-Kats and the towels are less addictive. I feel virtuous about this, although I suspect that Covid-19 will be rather too happy in the tufted, damp, mildly organic surface of the flannel.

I lived for 20 years with three female house-mates, until eventually the younger two reached voting age and moved on. It was astonishing, to a chap, how much toilet-paper was used (once, and thrown away). We were quick to respect the capacity of our standard septic-tank and tried to divert merely damp tissue away from the toilet bowl and to a burning bin for disposal by conflagration. We've never had a bin collection up the mountain and I can't remember what we did with diapers when the girls were young enough to need them. Disposable diapers are loaded with sodium polyacrylate and don't burn unless you soak them in petrol. The volume of dab-it-off TP was quite enough without diapers.

Although like Gladstone's Home Rule Bills being a bit too little too late, The Beloved has embraced reusable cotton 'wipes' to replace the couple of squares of paper used every tinkle. These have been cut to a convenient size from an old tea-towel which was too holey to be seen in the kitchen - imagine the shame if the neighbour came for tea and saw right through the tea-towels.
Q. Why too little too late?
A. Because we would have saved a true forest if we'd implemented these mini-towels when we had a full house.
Nevertheless: "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little"

I wrote that all a week ago and two days later the same idea surfaced on MeFi, as a bandanna.

All this reminds me of the old days when we used to ⟳ wash, sterilise, use, repeat ⟳ squares of velvet for doing replica plating of microbial colonies. These are now damnably expensive. But in the 1970s they were made for £nothing-at-all by Mrs E., the departmental bottle-washer. She put out the word across her network that she would take any off-cuts or cast-offs of velvet and cut them into 15 x 15cm squares for use when researchers and students were doing some replica plating.

I must say that it has been in my mind to go up the hill every so often and bring down a small bag of sustainably produced Sphagnum moss for bathroom cleaning: it is clean, green, mildly antiseptic and recyclable. If it's good enough for WWI hospitals as a dressing, it's good enough for my arse. You think we have reached bottom here? Not yet: tomorrow's round up will have a link to the foolish use of newspaper for this purpose.

Friday 20 March 2020

A snip at €1 million

Enough with Corona already! For a couple of notes more than €1,000,000 you can buy a choice {Merlyn [shown R]| St Albans}of 3 bedroom semis in Dublin 4 each about twice the footprint of our 'umble mountain 'ome. That will be convenient if you have to work in Dublin and like to be invited to parties in the various embassies that will surround your new home. Modern parents also take into account the druthers of their teenage and sub-teen children. I know of a couple of cases where the bread-winner has had to refuse a peachy job out of town or out of country because Junior will be bereft at losing daily contact with his current peer-group. Hey J! get with the programme, if you get out and about more you'll maybe meet the love of your life . . . from Andorra or Zambia.
OR . . .
For the same suitcase of folding money, you could buy Bartragh Is. . . your own island just off the coast (at high tide) in Killala Bay, Co. Mayo:
Like Erraid, the island my sister called home for several years in the 90s, you can walk across the flats at low tide. But they are similarly a bit short on trees, because the whippy Atlantic gales make it quite inhospitable to young trees and it will take years of care and protection to establish a shelter belt. But maybe that's just tree-hugger me. In the last 90s, Nick Faldo wanted to make a classic Golf Links in the dunes. There is a bit of a house, helped into a ruinous condition by the local 'lads':
Ooo look. Trees! I implied that there were no trees; but I actually wrote that there were few trees for 170 ha. = 420 acres. On a good day, the views are clear but the title might be murky

All hands on deck

In the 00s, when I was on a 3-day week, there was time to scan the literature outside the narrow field of my specialisation. I came across a polemic about disaster training for medical students. In the wake of the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake, with 90,000 corpses, 3 million displaced people, and the Winter snows imminent, the Pakistan government called for qualified personnel to come and help. The cited story is about how two final year medical students felt completely unprepared for the task they were bussed into. "Disaster management is an essential component of medical training, but unfortunately this component is largely missing from medical and nursing curricula. Our experience shows how a lack of training in disaster management can have unfortunate consequences for both patients and health-care students."  Reading between the lines, I think the boys done good even if they made mistakes. But should we, as a society, devote time and effort to prepare for Disasters when these are, almost by definition, vanishingly rare?

My pal Russ who hangs out on Twitter, flagged for me a comment / question by RTE's health correspondent Fergal Bowers @FergalBowers: Got a query on COVID-19 testing. Says we have dozens of empty laboratories in universities/technical colleges in the country. We have laboratory technicians & scientists underemployed. What would it take to outfit empty labs with extra equipment (if necessary) & retrain staff?

Now that's a good question. We shuttered The Institute for classes a week ago, although the buildings remain open . . . to facilitate staff developing on-line tuition protocols.  I'm far too old a dog to learn the new trick of on-line teaching and I can't bank the knowledge for my future in teaching because this time next year, I will be at Lunch-in-Longford Free Travel for Wrinklies rather than remedial math classes. Fergal's question addresses whether, and to what extent, it is useful to recruit idle workers in one area to  fill vacancies in Front Line. Because there is an emergency here-and-now-and-escalating and we want Effectives not passengers and dogoodniks.

You can't do Covid-19 testing in your garage or kitchen, not least because it is a highly contagious and potentially fatal microbe. The testing laboratory has to be safe for the workers and contained so that nothing escapes into the water supply. We don't want to have it like Pirbright releasing foot&mouth virus into the drains in 2007. The Man has decided there are 4 Biological Safety Levels BSLs of containment consonant with differential risk:
  • BSL1 - infectious agents or toxins not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adults
  • BSL2 - infectious agents or toxins that pose a risk if accidentally inhaled, swallowed, or exposed to the skin
  • BSL3 - infectious agents or toxins that may be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infection through inhalation exposure
  • BSL4 - infectious agents or toxins that pose a high risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease for which no vaccine or therapy is available
At The Institute we recently reviewed our stocks of microbes used for teaching and research because our management reckoned that upgrading the facilities to allow our students to learn how to work with characterize, for example Staphylococcus aureus [BSL2] would not be cost effective. The irony of course is that most Irish students will have some Staph A up their noses and 30% of any class will have MRSA [multiprev] there minding its own business and killing nobody. So sorry Fergal, we have no lab that can be easily or cheaply upgraded to BSL3.

One of my colleagues at work is a trained microbiologist, since she was 8, that's what she wanted to be. After four years of college and a PhD, she landed a peach job working in BSL3 lab working at The Frontiers of science, but with a frisson of extra excitement because of the potential risk and the necessity to a) know what she was doing and b) do it really carefully and reliably. As I said before needle-stick injuries are tolerable in a sweat-shop making underpants for Marks & Spencer but not so much if dealing with anthrax or Ebola. She stuck it for a week, at the end of which her hands were in ribbons from all the hand-washing. She took a week's sick leave to recover them. But they were back at code red within days of her return to work, so she went to work in the food and bevvy industry; which also has a high demand for competent microbiologists. So sorry Fergal, not every qualified lab-scientist, no matter how willing, is going to be useful in a Covid-19 testing lab.

Scientists are sadly narrow and over-specialised to be really on top of your field, you must have a narrow field. Keats and Shelley were the last two English poets who were at all up to date with their chemical knowledge [JBS Haldane]. Now it is difficult to be up to date on a single molecule in a named species: you'd have to read 6 papers a day, 7 days a week, to know everything published about TLR4 last year. That being said, as articulated by Danny Schnitzler here two days ago, the mindset of a scientist is a transferable skill: attention to detail, basic numeracy, knowing which end of an eppendorf [L] to open; keeping your work-space orderly; lab coat and safety-glasses all the time; following the protocol righteously; recording the results honestly. The local hospital has contacted The Institute to donate some of those always-on safety-glasses; presumably because there are none in the shops. I have 3 pairs as spares for students who forget theirs.
There are loads of other people who are re-purposing their staff and facilities:
  • distillers making hand-sanitizer instead of gin
  • parking concessions using their vans to deliver prescriptions rather than car-clamps
  • laid-off child-minders facebooking themselves up against nurses whose creche is closed
  • live-streaming children's story-tellers
  • hot meals for doctors as they stagger from their shift
I don't myself believe we need training for disaster management. We will be fine if we train our youngsters to be imaginative, adaptable and willing to test themselves.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Thursday 19 March 2020

Ich Dein

Yesterday, [all my troubles seemed so far away] . . . I was writing about Covid front-liners. One of my colleagues at The Institute, who teaches something useful [as opposed to my thoughts on sphincters and the sympathetic nervous system] to our Pharm Tech students, announced that all of these young women are doing extra hours, volunteering in hospitals. You wouldn't call them bed-pan IV-drip front-line, I guess, but their work-places are going to be a miasma of aerocoronasol for 10 hours a shift. I had a little frisson of respeck: they may not know if insulin is smaller than the pancreas but they can keep steady and kind as they dole out the Ibuprofen.

I sent an e-mail to DPharma O'TamilNadu:
Hey Dr V, I was thinking of you just now as Front Line soldier in the fight against the virus and thought you deserved a feather in your cap: Ich Dein "I Serve" is the motto of the British Prince of Wales but it sounds like Eich Dyn = Your Man in Welsh. Good luck, keep your hands clean and get enough sleep. Hats off! Dr Bob

We've been shut-down in our Bunker for six days now. The Beloved went on a last grocery trip on Friday and when those salad leaves are gone, they're gone, as the radio Ad has it. Because I don't fancy washing lettuce in soapy water. But the wild garlic Allium ursinum is up in the top garden, so we'll be able to get our greens. My pal Rene [prev] came to fill his 50lt bowser with Knockroe Spring Water from our garden tap. He couldn't come in for tea, so we hung outside for an hour comparing notes about inventory.
You won't starve if you have 19 sheep
Have you drawn the dotted lines on the flanks of your donkey to show the butcher where to cut?
I won't be asking the butcher to do what I can do myself.
Absolutely, of course, we none of us want to consume limited community resources.

One of my home-made gate-posts took the closures of this week as an excuse to fail. 20 years ago, we planted 100 larch Larix europaea whips in the top garden. A few survived and a tuthhree years later I planted the surviving 20 at the top of our farm in a narrow gut between a traditional stone wall and a sheep-proof fence. Maybe 6 years ago, one of these adolescent trees fell over in a storm. Straight, as thick as my thigh, and maybe 5m tall, it was too good for firewood. So the fattest 3m became a gatepost. My neighbour helpfully said it wouldn't last and I should have used steel . . . a week after I'd finished the project.  Well I got 6 years of re-purpose out of that latch trunk and now it's ready for up the chimney.
At least I was ''working from home" and could take steps to keep the gap sheep-proof.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Lock-down education and medals

I'm a butterfly generalist: I can do a lot of things . . . not very well. As a sub-teen, I was consistently the 4th fastest runner in my school over 100m but usually clocked 3rd over 80m hurdles. Later I got to be a competent book-binder; struggled to get a few tunes out of the tin-whistle; was briefly The Go To Guy for codon usage TGTG4CU. 25 years ago we embraced Home Education at the unschooling end of that spectrum. We were founder-members of the Irish home education network HEN and collectively we developed a bunch of different techniques, fixes, cunning plans and clever wheezes to satisfy the restless curiosity of our children. Increasingly, the optimum parental strategy became shut up and get out of the way. Having thrown the standard curriculum-towards-exams out the window as being too full of make-weight and insufficiently integrated between 'subjects', Dau.I and Dau.II only needed access to resources to learn more about stuff in which they were interested. In those days it was gorgeous data-rich profusely illustrated Dorling-Kindersley books and CDs and the local library.

But these Covid Days have seen a flood of parents and children trying to sort out a way of life that doesn't include 5+ hours of child-minding and cootie-exchange each day of the working week. With everyone working from home, families are pulling on the coats of any home-educating families they know looking for tips and ideas about how to keep up with the maths, history and language skills which fill the school day. I could set up as a Home Education consultant but I can't see anyone paying €60/hr to hear me say "Relax, leave the kids alone, try Sporcle".  Sporcle quizzes were Dau.II's Finishing School before she enrolled in U. Life. There are far more on-line resources for HE now.

Other musings on the change of life as we know it in Covidland:
Mobilising Useful Skills in a Crisis is, to me, a recipe for national / local success. At the moment, at the extreme left tail of the distribution of cases even if we flatten the curve [R] there are health care professionals who are Covid-19 positive because they took one for the team. They are being stood down until their infection has run its course. In Milan, where they are much deeper in the mire, such Covid-19+ effectives are being put to work if they can stand . . . note: not if they can stand it but if they can be propped upright to do the skilled work that only they are trained for. We are going to be careful and creative about how to re-purpose our work-force.

Here's Danny Schnitzler, a Scots neuroendocrinologist on Twitter: Are you researching COVID-19 in Edinburgh/ Scotland? I may no nothing about virology BUT I do know how to work in a lab. DM me. I can help! Not me, I am a danger to myself and others in the lab [NDE prev] but you can expect someone like Danny to know which of an Eppendorf to open; she could be an asset if vaccine developers start to go symptomatic and have to take to their beds.

Then there's my young friend and mentee from Tamil Nadu, whom we last met being braced with cake after failing to secure any work in the biomedical sector. He's landed a month's trial working in  a pharmacy in South Co. Dublin; not because of the crisis but because he has fired his CV at every vacancy in the sector since the beginning of the year. I have every confidence in him - not so much because he is over-qualified for the work [he has a DPharm from Chennai] but because he is calm, hard-working, willing-to-learn and not afraid to get his hands dirty keep his hands super-sanitized. He's legal here, because he just finished an absurdly expensive MSc in Pharm Regs and his visa allows him to get post-graduate work-experience.

Now Dau.I and me, we are public servants: sucking at the government teat and accumulating pension rights to die for [sorry metaphor error, there]. And let's face it: librarians and 3rd level teachers are not essential services in this crisis. Some of my work colleagues have been re-assigned for training as Covid-19 contact tracers - and I thought, I could totally do that.

Then again, when my aged father-in-law Pat the Salt became increasingly unable to take care of himself, we pitched through the looking-glass into a parallel universe of Filipino gastarbeiter. There is a whole community working here under the radar, all the ones we know in the caring profession. The sacrifices they have made for their families back home are scarcely credible to Westerners. They get one shot at entry to our country, because they won't be allowed back in if they go home. So when brothers get married, parents fall sick and die, the kids graduate from high school and university, these New Irish they soldier on changing the sheets, mopping up the puddles and trying not to cry when they get shouted at by the sick crotchety elders who are in their care. We need this infrastructural in-home care because it's much cheaper, far more compassionate, than institutional care.

Now here's a thought. When my pal Mac the Knife graduated from Dublin Medical School at the end of the 1970s, there was nothing for him here as the 80s recession was just beginning to bite. he therefore took his family off to Canada because that country was really crying out for medical professionals. If you went to Montreal or Toronto to working the sexy teaching hospitals, as well as getting paid [more than employed docs were netting in Ireland] you could, after three years, claim citizenship from the Dominion. If otoh you took your skills and service to the provinces your papers could be processed in a much shorter time. That is how he and his young family rocked up in Uranium City Saskatchewan where the Jan/Feb mean daily temperatures are -20°C; a temperature never achieved on the island of Ireland.

When this Covid-19 has done its damnedest and scythed through our people, maybe a grateful government would pay back the front line workers in papers. And let's re-think how we value people who are now keeping supermarkets stocked and distributing toilet-rolls and groceries. Zero hours contracts for people whose lives are on the line for the community? I don't think so, for very shame.